12 April, 2009
"Manhunt," an Excerpt...
“Who wants to play Manhunt?”
Manhunt was a game only similar to flashlight tag in that it involved hiding and then seeking with a flashlight. The older kids told us the stakes were higher, and had never allowed anyone under fourteen to play in the past.
“We’ll play in teams of two,” Matt announced.
He had hypnotized simply by asking us to hang out with him. He had always been a center for us to gravitate to. When we were small we often sought him out for answers to complicated gaming questions, or to help us create new games. Unfortunately his games often involved violence and cruelty, while he oversaw the results from far enough away to not be directly associated with things if somebody’s parents came along.
Much to my surprise he had paired himself with me. All of the teams were opposite gender, “To even out the odds,” he said. Was his teaming up with me a vendetta, an opportunity to get me alone and knock me down a peg after having discovered him during flashlight tag.
“So who’s going to be it first?” Hands on hips, Eve tossed her hair in a boyish, flirtatious fashion. She’d been paired up with Ed, whom she’d had a crush on since the third grade.
“Do your stupid bubble gum game, Eve.” Matt smirked.
She had to feel stupid kneeling down, “Bubble-gum, bubble-gum in a dish. How many pieces do you wish?” She had stopped on Gary’s shoe and he answered five. “One-two-three-four-five, if you want to stay alive hope that I don’t count you out, ‘cos you are it!”
There wasn’t enough money in the world that could have forced me to purposely humiliate myself in front of Matt like Eve had done. Most times I felt like breathing was humiliation enough. I glanced down at her finger tapping shoe-tops, waited for the extended version that landed the tip of her nail on top of her brother’s shoe just after, “. . . who will be the next one, and you are it!”
“I’ll fucking kill you, Eve.”
“You said to do it, Matt!” She hopped up.
Under ordinary circumstances, I’d watched him pummel her for being cocky in the past, but instead he shrugged and said, “You better hide good. If I find you, you’re dead.”
The partners huddled close and disappeared whispering into the blue darkness. Matt and I watched, and for awhile I could still hear Eve and Ed’s voices and then nothing except the first frog songs of spring. I was Little Red Riding Hood all alone with the big bad wolf. I glanced toward him and felt my stomach twist inside with nerves. He leaned against the wooden support beam of the pavilion, head back, and I thought his were eyes closed.
He was so cool, even cooler than Han Solo. I hoped he’d never find out, or else it might swell his already enormous ego.
Was he talking to me? I moved toward him, taking small, awkward steps. He reached out to grab my arm and drew me closer. I nearly fainted when his arms looped around me, one lowering slowly down my back in repeated strokes, “How’s that?”
I swallowed, “Fine.”
“You’re freezing,” warm hands brushed across the bare skin of my forearms. “Move closer. Do you want my sweatshirt?”
My vocal cords were paralyzed with shock. Within seconds he had tugged off his sweatshirt and draped it over my shoulders. It had all happened so suddenly that only one thing seemed able to explain it: I was dreaming.
“You’re nervous,” he lowered his face to mine, and the warmth of his breath sent shivers through me. “You’re shaking.”
The greater part of me wanted to pull away and run home because this wasn’t Matt, at least not the Matt that I knew. The Matt I knew would never help Steve win a game of flashlight tag, or offer someone his sweatshirt. In fact, earlier in the summer he had convinced me that the character Madeline Usher, in the movie Fall of the House of Usher, was going to reach out from under the chair I was sleeping next to and strangle me in my sleep because my name was Jenny. He’d chased me around for hours repeating my name in zombie tones.
“You’re intimidating,” I said.
“Intimidating?” He laughed and held me out at arm’s length. He had probably enjoyed my admission; intimidation had been tactic of choice. “I won’t hurt you.”
I wanted to believe him, so I relaxed and as my body loosened he drew me closer. “Shouldn’t we be counting, or something?”
“I am counting,” he looked into my eyes. I could tell that he was calculating something, whether it be the number of minutes they’d been hiding or something else.
“When should we look for—”
His mouth pressed against mine in a silencing kiss and I stiffened against him. He hadn’t been my first kiss. Earlier that summer all the girls in the neighborhood had taken turns kissing David’s friend Greg. Matt was the first kiss I’d dreamed of since I’d come to know that kissing and cooties had nothing to do with each other. His slow arm moved along the length of my spine, instigated relaxation. Trapped in his arms, I should have been in heaven, but instead I felt like a rabbit just out of reach from a vicious dog’s chain.
And then, just as if nothing had ever happened, he pushed me to his left and said, “Let’s go.”
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